It’s Good to Be Home

It’s good to be home. Still, vacations certainly are great. They’re the allotment of time and distance you set aside for setting things aside.

But let me just shoot straight with you. I get more than a little anxious before coming home. We haven’t been taking vacations as a family for that many years, so I can look back at each of them and say with conviction that I’ve never once thought while thrashing around in the pool with Jen and the kids, “You know, I’ve had enough of vacation. Let’s get back to reality.” For me, Voltaire’s comment amount rest being a brother to boredom falls flat on its face when I’m enjoying my early morning vacation ritual of sitting at my computer drinking coffee, unrestricted, free to type whatever I feel like, and as I do, every now and then, catching a glimpse of a favorite palm tree covered in scurrying anoles just outside the window.

For me, vacationing does not share the same parentage as boredom.

You may have a different locale with different rituals, but I’m sure it’s the same for you. Still, let me dig a little deeper into the anxiousness, because I’m guessing this might be familiar to you, too.

While on vacation, we usually drive cars that are better than our own. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we troop through the rental lot in search of the Porsche section—although, I’ve pestered Jen about it once or twice. We usually get a minivan. And if we’ve paid more than $250 to borrow it for the whole trip, we consider ourselves as having been ripped off. I’m not kidding. Jen is the one who plans all this stuff, and she is magnificent this way. This year she managed to get us situated for the whole two weeks in a really nice Dodge Caravan for only $238. But more to my point, it had 115,000 miles less than the car I drive now, and as far as I could tell, not one of its dashboard warning lights was beaming steadily.

While on vacation, even though we only go out to eat about four or five times over the course of the entire two weeks, that’s still far more than we do as a family in an entire year—maybe even two years. And rest assured, our time in the various restaurants while vacationing is never wearisome. The staff is kind and equipped to serve, smiling and ready to bring us whatever we ask. We are kings and queens for the moment.

While on vacation, we do whatever we feel like doing. Of course, with the fear of COVID-19 looming everywhere this year, it was more of a challenge when it came to getting out and finding things to do. And yet, we never grew tired of the swimming pool. We were never met with exhaustion playing board games. We were never fatigued by huddling together on the couch, a bowl of popcorn in hand and watching “Shark Week” episodes featuring our favorite underwater cameraman personality, Andy Casagrande.

My point here is that while vacations are a temporary respite from reality, we can become anxious when we find ourselves actually heading back into reality. We want the vacation to be our permanent reality. We don’t want to come back to the car that has trouble starting. We don’t want to come back to the places where we are rarely, if ever, the one being served. We don’t want to come back to the relationships peppered with conflict. We don’t want to resubmit ourselves to stress-filled schedules filled with ungrateful patrons eager to tell you how undelighted they are with you. We don’t want the seemingly impossible workloads or the pressurized deadlines.

In the final analysis, across the expanse of a year’s fifty-two weeks, we want a reversal. We want fifty weeks of ease, and only two weeks of trouble.

But consider that word “reversal” for a moment.

I did a little bit of devotional reading each day while I was away. Every now and then, Luther spoke of God as staging a great reversal in Christ. We most often hear it referred to as “the great exchange.” If you ever get a chance to read from some of Luther’s writing on this subject, do so. His excitement is palpable. In fact, I sometimes think his words are at their poetic best whenever he’s dealing with this topic in particular. And why would they be this way? Because of all people who needed a reversal, it was Martin Luther, a man who monopolized the time of his father confessor because he couldn’t find the end to his own faults in a single day. He was a man terrified that he could never do enough to find God’s favor and win eternal life. But here in the great reversal, terrified sinners discover a God who, even in our ghastliness, loves us beyond measure. We discover a God who has no desire whatsoever to give sinners what they truly deserve. Instead, we behold Jesus on the cross and we see God working hard to lose so that we might win. We see Him taking the lowliest position of a foot-washing servant, laboring to make sinful peasants into righteous princes. We behold Him striving to endow the simplest of human words and means with an extraordinary power for delivering immeasurable forgiveness from the storehouses of heaven itself. For a guy like Luther—and for all of us for that matter—the Gospel turns what was once an awful truth of our inescapability from God’s divine reach into the most comforting of truths.

There’s an interesting aspect to all of this that relates to the anxiety of wishing a two-week vacation and the fifty weeks of reality that follow could switch places. By the Gospel, in a sense, God helps us to see that in Christ, this has actually happened. He gives us the eyes of faith for seeing that in the scheme of things, life in this world is really more like the “two weeks” of trouble in comparison to the inevitable “fifty weeks” of eternal rest we’ll experience with Christ.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m in the midst of a stressful situation while at the same time knowing that very soon I’ll be leaving it all behind, the worry I experience in those harder moments feels a little more like borrowed trouble. With that, I can endure it because I don’t really own it. It’s the same with life in this world. I don’t own it. Christ does. He took all its troubles into Himself on the cross. He carried them with Him into the grave. He rose again to justify my freedom from their permanence, which means I can make my way through all of this world’s nonsense knowing it’s already passing away, and in less than a blink in eternity’s eye, I’ll soon be resting with Him.

I want to add one last thing.

When I returned home and found myself among so many of you, I again experienced the joy of one of God’s most generous provisions to humans for enduring the relative “two weeks” we spend on this earth. I came home to friends.

Cicero referred to a friend as a “second self.” Aristotle referred to friendship itself as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” For as insightful as these two philosophers were, they certainly spoke most handily in this regard. Coming home to friends, dwelling with you in the midst of this world’s struggles as a community of people immersed in the mercies of God and prepared to labor together, well, that helps to steer the anxiety away, too.

For that I am grateful to our gracious God who put you into my life, and I can repeat what I said at the beginning of this note: It’s good to be home.

By the way, I also began yesterday’s sermon with that sentence, and then doing something that probably seemed a little out of character to all of you, I asked Alexis Shirk (who was sitting in the first row near her parents) to snap a quick picture of the congregation for me. I had her do this because only moments before I stepped into the pulpit to preach, having just surveyed a Godly sea of 240 familiar faces, I remembered once again what a privilege it is to be the one preaching God’s Law and Gospel to people I love. It was an instance confirming for me the Christian proverb that “a faithful friend is the medicine of life; and those who fear the Lord shall find him.”

The Election

Don’t worry, it’s almost over. November 8 is only days away.

I don’t know about you, but one of my hopes is that once election day comes and goes, once the ballots have been cast and we’re wherever we end up as a nation, I pray that so many of the friendships I’ve seen dissolve in a single season—as though the collections of years full of season after season of loving kindness, togetherness, like-minded service to and for each other, and all of the other things that make for fellowship in Christ didn’t matter at all—my prayer is that those friendships will be restored, that they will be seen for what they are in Jesus and His love for us.

It would seem that we live in a day and age where dialogue is dead and opinions driven by emotions have now risen to a seat of prominence well above the Christian truth that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

It would seem to be this is all we should expect right now. But it isn’t. The Spirit creates the hopeful and enduring love Saint Paul is describing. And the Holy Spirit has been promised to the Church by Christ and is at work to do it. With that, there is always humility—the ability to confess offenses and seek forgiveness. There is always the willingness to pursue reconciliation and the hopeful anticipation that others—if they claim Christ, as well, will seek to be together again, too. It may not happen today. It might not happen tomorrow. But it will happen. It has to. If it doesn’t, then, well, you know why. I don’t need to explain it. But when it does, you also know why. Because the Holy Spirit is at work in believers who have differing opinions—and yet, they are people moved to live as they believe—which means they are people who actually take seriously the words “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26) and are quick to see that broken relationships are restored. Why? Because by faith they are already mindful of the relationship restored between God and men by the Savior, Jesus Christ—and that brokenness was far more than a difference of opinion. In sin we are at enmity with God. We are enemies who would rather see Him dead than be called His friends. And yet: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

So, again, don’t worry. All of those folks who unfriended you on Facebook, those folks who deleted you from their mobile phone contacts list, those friends and relatives who’ve said, in anger, that they want nothing else to do with you, well, if you are willing to humbly pursue reconciliation through faith in Christ, and they are too, then all will be well. God promises peace and every blessing in this. If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry. Continue to put your trust in the Lord and give a faithful witness to the Gospel. All will be well. Even if it doesn’t find repair, all will be well. God’s will, holy and perfect, will be accomplished. You’ll see.

No Gimmicks

The Lord loves you. And most certainly is the Time of Christmas an opportunity to understand the extent to which our gracious God would go to show His love.

I am starting this week’s message with this emphasis so that you will consider two things.

First, Christmas is a time when folks are more inclined to attend church somewhere. Personal barriers come down and the general friendliness of the season will often overpower the personal hesitation to be in a context that they would normally avoid. Also, these same people will most likely only attempt such a venture because they have been invited by someone they know. In other words, someone actually said to them, “Hey, it’s Christmas Eve, how about going to church with me tonight?”

Second, I’m sure you know someone who would consider joining you for worship—if you would only ask them. The Thoma family has their eyes set upon a particular neighbor family…and we are going to hit the “go” button on the effort this weekend.

Believe it or not, in the history of the world, this is how 99% of the church’s evangelism really has occurred. Not through gimmicky programs. Not through entertainment. Not through hipster efforts to seem relevant. The church is as it is because the Holy Spirit is at work through the Gospel which simultaneously moves you, the believer, to reach out to others in the very real grit and grime of everyday life. Christmas just so happens to be a time when, contextually, the hardness of the human shell may be a bit more fragile and the task may be a little easier.

Think about it. Pray about. Maybe give it a try. You may be surprised.